On January 27, 2019 The Vito Marcantonio Forum & Word Of Art Productions presented The Purgatory Trial of Vito Marcantonio, which was written and performed by Roberto Ragone, Directed by Art Bernal with an introduction by Gerald Meyer.
On a recent Sunday afternoon in New York City an audience of more than 50 people was treated to a unique one-man show, The Purgatory Trail of Vito Marcantonio, written and performed by Roberto Ragone and directed by Art Bernal with introductory remarks by Professor Gerald Meyer. Professor Meyer is the author of the definitive biography of the progressive congressman and the co-chair, along with co-chair Ragone, of the Vito Marcantonio Forum.
The play opens on Aug. 9th, 1954, the day of Marcantonio’s death. Though a Catholic, Marcantonio was denied a Catholic burial by New York’s extreme right-wing cardinal, and thus the action of the play centers around an imagined plea by Marcantonio to be released from purgatory — the repository of souls that God assigned neither to Heaven nor Hell — and be allowed to ascend into heaven.
By way of a defense, Ragone, as Marcantonio, presents excerpts from his speeches in Congress and dramatized reenactments of incidents from his life. Ragone carries these texts (explaining each of these key moments in his life) in a portfolio each of which illustrate his record of selfless service to his constituents and his loyalty to his East Harlem community.
Reenacted are such things as Marcantonio’s impassioned pleas for the establishment of a “second front” in Europe during WWII to assist the beleaguered Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, his defense of jailed Puerto Rican Nationalist, Pedro Albizu Campos, and his lonely stance in opposition to the Korean War.
The play illustrates how Marcantonio never compromised his progressive principals; always serving as a champion of equality, a fighter against injustice and a defender of the common folk.
Also documented: the relentless hostility of the powers-that-be toward Marcantonio. They continually plotted and schemed against him, changing the boundaries of his district until it extended as far south as Sutton Place. They even changed the election laws to his detriment.
Initially, these attempts at sabotage were in vain, he was reelected six times. Contributing greatly to Marcantonio’s success was the fact that during his time in Congress he had an unparalleled record of direct service to his constituents.
In his introductory remarks, Professor Meyer read extracts from letters sent to Marcantonio from people in his district thanking him or asking for help. With that kind of grassroots support, he proved hard to beat and the only way his opponents could succeed removing him from office was through the immense effort of getting all the other political parties to unite against him.
There are many memorable highlights’, e.g., the eulogy given at Marcantonio’s wake by the great Paul Robeson; a back and forth with a friend of questionable reputation, the gangster Tommy Lucchese, who Marcantonio showed respect while rejecting his offer of a personal bodyguard; and Marcantonio’s successful defense of black leader and communist W.E.B. DuBois, who aptly said the main hurdle of the 21st century would be overcoming racism.
Although this New York performance was a limited engagement Ragone and Bernal have already been approached about possible performances in other cities and it may, in part, even be available for viewing on YouTube, so many others may get a chance to see this play in the future.
Today, Marcantonio, perhaps the most progressive representative to ever hold a congressional seat, has largely been written out of history. The Vito Marcantonio Forum’s goal is to reverse this wrong.
You are invited to join The Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF) continues with the latest installment of Oliver Stone’s multi-part documentary:
The Untold History of the United States: Chapter 5: The 50s – Eisenhower, the Bomb & The Third World
WHAT: Screening of The Untold History of the United States. Chaired by Gerald Meyer, VMF co-chair of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, the film will be followed by an open discussion.
WHEN: Saturday, December 1st, 2018 from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
WHERE: Community Room at the Mulberry Street Public Library:
10 Jersey St. (btw. Lafayette and Mulberry Sts.) New York, NY 10012
PLEASE NOTE: Chapter 6 screening will be on January 5, 2019
Light Refreshments / Free Admission
Martyrs of McCarthyism: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, 1953.
From 2018 to 2019, the Vito Marcantonio Forum showed the first three of Stone’s ten, one-hour long, episodes that comprise his masterful documentary, “The Untold History of the United States,” each of which was followed by an Open Discussion. These events attracted large, engaged audiences. This series will resume with the screening of “The 50’s – Eisenhower, the Bomb & The Third World.”
Almost eerily, Stone’s interpretation of this period of U. S. history mirrors the positions Vito Marcantonio presented from the floor of the House of Representatives, on radio, in Madison Square Garden/Yankee Stadium, and at countless street-corner rallies throughout New York City.
The screening on Dec. 1st 2018, will be followed by “JFK to the Brink,” on Jan, 5th 2019. All parts of this series take place on the first Saturdays of the month in the Community Room of the MSPL, 2:00PM-4:00PM; all are free and serve light refreshments.
We encourage you to go on-line and purchase “The Untold History of the U.S.,” an extraordinary volume, authored by Stone and Peter Kusnick, that accompanies the documentary.
PS: There is interest in forming a four-session reading circle for Leonard Covello’s, The Heart Is the Teacher. If you are interested, please send an email to GeraldJMeyer@aol.com, who will facilitate this endeavor. Please include which evening(s), from Monday to Thursday, you are available.
About the film: Documentary by Oliver Stone. E.5: Eisenhower and the CIA played a great part in the shaping of the world in the 1950’s; the development of the Cold war and the nerve-wrecking battle against communism, driven on by the U.S. Government hysteria’s reaction to the Red Scare spearheaded by McCarthyism leads to the incarceration, black listing, and execution of those who are a perceived threat.
About Oliver Stone:This prolific and ingenious screenwriter and director has authored numerous award-winning feature films, including Salvador, The Fourth of July, JFK — that have reached millions of viewers with dramatic depictions of historic events that challenge conventional interpretations of critical events of our time. Stone’s official website is oliverstone.com and his official Twitter handle is: @TheOliverStone
The VMF is proud to announce: Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, invites you to the dedication of the Vito Marcantonio Lucky Corner, E116th St. and Lexington Ave. this Sunday, December 17, 2017 from 1:00PM to 2:00PM.
Vito Marcantonio Lucky Corner
There will be a reading of the poem, “Litany of San Vito,” by Gil Fagiani that will be performed by: Christopher Bell, (English), Maria Lisella, (Italian), and Gloria E. Quiñones (Spanish). Other talks include:
LuLu LoLo Pascale “Personal Memory of Marc.”
Dr. Gerald Meyer: “The Lucky Corner: Its History, Its Future.”
Roberto Ragone: “Marc for Mayor, at the Lucky Corner.”
Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker of the New York City Council: Dedication.
Directed by Art Bernal with an introduction by Gerald Meyer and an epilogue by Roberto Ragone as Vito Marcantonio, this stage reading will be dedicated to Marcantonio, who was born on December 10, 1902.
Chelsea Rising Reading Circle | Dec 20th, 6PM-8PM
On the third Wednesday of every month, The VMF has been sponsoring a reading circle run by Co-chair Gerald Meyer, on I Vote My Conscience by Annette T. Rubinstein.
There is no admission charge and being that this is the final installment in the series–this event will end with a celebration with food and beverage provided–so don’t miss it!
Penn South Reading Room 339 W 24th St New York, NY 10011
VMF member Anna Filameno is a word painter with a vast palette… sometimes romantic and poetic, sometimes explosive! Reading her vignettes is like being on a rollercoaster ride… and when you catch your breath you’re ready for more!”
-Arlene Karian, Author
The following is a chapter from her latest book SO YOU WANNA BE ITALIAN? An Artist’s Journey Exploring Her Roots
The following is a chapter she wrote on Vito Marcantonio
Sun in Sagittarius
“You only live once and it is best to live one’s life with one’s conscience rather that to temporize or accept with silence those things one believes to be against the interests of one’s people and one’s nation.”
What is it like to be inside the wind?…
Forever circling… sweeping in like a tsunami?
A mind like yours is mercurial, capricious… and sometimes creates a tidal wave of such enormous dimensions… so compelling that we are forced to give it relevance… We are filled with a sense of optimism… and tremendous power…
You VITO MARCANTONIO… urban maverick… were that wave… that tsunami. You lived all your working hours in the dream you belonged to. The rhythm of the streets was your mantra… the immigrants, poverty… the wild and boisterous sounds the wind made as you rushed into your orbit… were all part of the adventure.
Could you have done it all?
The mad attempt to fight the system… defending civil rights and the workingman… and the constant struggle to transform politics?
“I fully realize,” you said, “that men must pay the great price in order to adhere to ideals. I fully realize that one needs guts to pursue such a course…”
And guts you had, Vito
How many streets did you walk down to find the same scattered silences, the same empty eyes staring back at you… the same exaggerated disappoints and contradictions… the same paradoxes. How many of you got lost in the complexity of the indigence that abounded on Ninety Sixth Street to one hundred and Twenty- fifth Street… from Lexington Avenue to the East River?…
Who were they?…
These Italians, Puerto Ricans, Jews, and African Americans? How much of yourself did you see in them?… such that you could not let go? Perhaps this was your way of affirming life… a way of freeing yourself from your past.
East Harlem was your mirror, a place where you could abandon yourself. It was a place where you joined the gamut of human life… life which reflected the very essence of who you are.
You were all part of the same fabric
VITO MARCANTONIO… Fighter for the underprivileged…
And when you felt most alone… surrounded by great opposition… that’s when you fought the hardest. That was when you remained true to yourself… You lived most deeply when you faced the onslauight.
“I vote my conscience.” You said.
And indeed you did, Congressman…
You, VITO, have passed through your transitions nobly… and the triumph of your ideals is stamped in history.
There are times when greatness becomes visible and it lives for a while. It has a moment in the sun and becomes luminous… and we have no choice but to let it dazzle us… and then it slips away… leaving us in a state of reverence.
The streets were your home, VITO, your Mecca to defend. But you had a rendezvous with destiny, didn’t you? And on that rainy day in New York City, your heart made an inevitable and uncompromising conquest. You lost the battle. They found you on the very streets you loved…
Over several months the Vito Marcantonio Forum had begun a collaboration with the Drama Workshop Project in its second phase of activity to remember legendary Congressman Vito Marcantonio on the 60th anniversary of his death. Following up on the official commemoration at Woodlawn Cemetery, “The Vito Marcantonio Phenomenon: A Theatrical Reconstruction of Marcantonio’s Effective Radical Legacy” was gathering much momentum leading up to October 19th, 2014. Gaetana’s Restaurant was planning a welcoming atmosphere to friends and newcomers to celebrate Marcantonio’s life and reflect on his passing.
The Irony of a New Reason to Mourn
Then news of tragedy emerged 10 days before the event. Morgan Powell, founding member of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, had suddenly and inexplicably passed away. No one knew the details. Morgan, like Marcantonio, advocated for social justice, had a passion for history and its application – Morgan as a historian and community leader and Marcantonio as a political leader. Morgan applied these interests toward developing walking tours of the Bronx in connection of African Americans and the Bronx River. I met Morgan when the city was revamping its recycling policies in 2003, but I observed his interest in all aspects of environmental conservation and sustainability.
Close friend Nilka Martell and Morgan Powell
However, over the ten days leading up to “The Vito Marcantonio Phenomenon” event, we realized Morgan ironically and sadly shared another element with Marcantonio: he had not yet received a proper burial. No family member had claimed his body to make a formal funeral arrangement. So his remains still remain with the City of New York. This sense of limbo was not elusive to those of us who are aware that Marcantonio’s passing — while motivating a memorial committee to form and raise money for a resting place and a book compiling his speeches — lacks closure because Cardinal Spellman refused to give him a Catholic burial.
“The Vito Marcantonio Phenomenon” began with an improvised memorial for Morgan. After showing a 2.5 minute video put together by David Giglio offering a glimpse into Morgan’s life, Dr. Gerald Meyer began with a heartfelt eulogy reflecting on Morgan’s interest in social justice and how much of the work of Vito Marcantonio resonated with him. Meyer reflected on how in Marcantonio’s time, people stopped what they were doing to acknowledge the passing away of anyone, regardless of status, as the departed passed by in a funeral procession. Adults stopped working. Children stopped playing. In death, the VMF must have that same departure from its planned activities and have stillness and silence for the passing of a person, who was not just a friend, but a comrade. Gerald observed asked the audience to appreciate the distinction: “comradeship is more than a friendship; friendships come and go based on emotion, but comradeship is forever, comradeship is based on having similar values, working together for common good.”
After reflections from Saudy Tejada, who was a friend to Morgan in the Bronx and a partner in social justice causes, and from Gigi Assante, who wrote a poem dedicated to Morgan, I offered my own thoughts to conclude the memorial. I recalled meeting Morgan while working in government and participating with him at an electronics recycling event that led to a conversation about Vito Marcantonio. After sending Morgan a copy of Dr. Meyer’s article about Marcantonio’s funeral (“Italian Harlem’s Biggest Funeral”), which included examples of Marcantonio’s advocacy for African Americans and the role of W.E.B. Dubois as an honorary pall bearer, Morgan shortly contacted me thereafter, expressing how impressed and inspired he was and expressed gratitude for my sharing the article with him. Morgan observed: “How come I’ve never heard of this guy?” I’ve heard this reaction before but permanently remembered it when Morgan poignantly uttered those words. I told the October 19th audience that Morgan’s statement may be a universal reaction they and others may have as they learn about Marcantonio.
I recalled introducing Morgan to several of my friends including Brian Kavanagh, whose inauguration Morgan would volunteer for in 2007, after Brian became an Assemblyman. I recollected the ”Seinfeldesque circumstances” leading up to Morgan’s participation in the Vito Marcantonio Forum. After telling Gerald I had a pre-scheduled commitment but had invited Morgan to the founding meeting of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, Gerald expressed concerned: so many interested parties, who had done prior work on Marcantonio, would be cramming into his home, with a shortage of space and food to ensue. Gerald suggested I defer Morgan’s participation to a future meeting, and still designate him a founding member. However, I could not reach Morgan in time; so, Morgan attended the meeting, and apparently made his presence felt: he hit the ground running and became a founding member through his official attendance.
Morgan would take an interest in Marcantonio’s role in Marcantonio’s activism on desegration, civil rights and economic justice. I recall a Bronx River Sankofa PowerPoint presentation I attended in 2012 when Morgan brought up segregated book banks in Bronx hospitals, and then completely by coincidence at a VMF meeting a week later, Gerald Meyer mentioning Marcantonio’s role in desegregating the blood banks nationwide.
Vito Marcantonio Forum members Roberto Ragone and Morgan Powell on BronxNet News (click the image to see the video).
This sad irony deepens when we consider the two final acts Morgan undertook for the organization: 1) He obtained a last minute article in the “Bronx Chronicle,” and an 11th hour interview for both of us on “Bronxnet TV” to promote the August 9th event officially commemorating the 60th Anniversary of Vito Marcantonio’s death (watch the video on BronxNet.org). Morgan wanted to ensure Marcantonio was properly remembered on that milestone date. 2) He composed an article about the event and then describing all the significant New York City locations in Marcantonio’s life. This action, similar to promoting the ceremony at Woodlawn cemetery, helped give everyone a sense of history and placement for Marcantonio. I told the audience one of the last things I said to Morgan was his article is an essential component to the VMF’s efforts to produce a documentary on Marcantonio’s life. Revealing his signature cheerfulness and smile, Morgan was proud of the spillover benefit.
After Gerald led a one minute moment of silence, Roberto announced a brief intermission and then the official program began.
Recap of the Official August 9th Commemoration at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx
Approximately 50 to 60 attended the October 19 event, which was filmed by David Giglio and whose visuals were overseen by Adam Milat-Meyer, who worked Kevin O’Connor on acoustics.
Gerald Meyer, LuLu LoLo Pascale, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Adam Milat-Meyer, and Roberto Ragone
The “Vito Marcantonio Phenomeon” began with introductions, identifying both sponsoring organizations, and noted the event would present “The People’s Proclamation for The People’s Politician.” I pointed out that the VMF document would become the template for proclamations issued by Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito, Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez, both of whom attended the event, along with State Senator Jose M. Serrano, Council Member Andrew Cohen, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Congressman Charles D. Rangel, and Congressman Eliot L. Engel — whose written declaration acknowledging Marcantonio’s accomplishment would become part of the Congressional Record. (Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh also attended the event.) The announcement that Speaker Mark-Viverito was committed to working with the VMF on a street-naming in East Harlem for Marcantonio generated loud applause.
The Marcantonio Phenomenon: The Set-up
Memorial cards given out at Woodlawn Cemetery 8/9/14
The first presentation was a very brief poem written by VMF member, Gil Fagiani, entitled Litany of San Vito, and read by Vito Marcantonio Forum Treasurer, Adam Milat-Meyer. It has become a tradition for the VMF to begin its events with this poem. It serves as a clearing statement or prayer. Everyone followed along with a copy of the poem in a postcard at their seats (distributed along with their programs). These postcards looked like mass cards for Marcantonio. Co-emcee, Marilyn Ocasio, of the Drama Workshop Project, introduced a brief film by David Giglio entitled: Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954): Synopsis of a Large Life. With a narration written by Gerald and myself with my recitation as voice-over, the film briefly appetizes the attendees with bits and pieces of Marcantonio’s life and contributions, the role of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, and the success of advancing knowledge of Vito Marcantonio through our August 9 event.
The People’s Proclamation for the People’s Politician and Performances: Theatrical Reconstructions and Juxtapositions
Proceeding with the remainder of the program, I light heartedly explained an “artistic difference” between myself and Gerald Meyer over whether the volunteers reading the segments of the proclamation should read their part straight through together one after the other or should the readers be interspersed throughout the program. Assuming the audience would appreciate and engage in the “campfire” reading of the proclamation even more if broken up, I matched up sections of the proclamation thematically with a performance piece. I jokingly told the audience I wagered Gerald Meyer $10,000 they would like the juxtapositions, and asked the audience to ride the rollercoaster, experience the beta test, and at least pretend to like the show since I wouldn’t have the money to pay off the bet.”
Click on the image above to get a copy signed by Dr Gerald Meyer
With Marilyn Ocasio guiding the remainder of the program, Frank Marcantonio announced the beginning of The People’s Proclamation for the People’s Politician and read the first few whereas clauses about Marcantonio’s Italian background and his childhood, touching on Dr. Leonard Covello’s role as his high school teacher, intellectual mentor, mentor, and collaborator. Eduardo Sanchez then performed a dramatization of Leonard Covello reading from his autobiography, The Heart is the Teacher, reflecting on his encounters when he taught Marcantonio at Dewitt Clinton High School. In the scene, set in 1921, young Marcantonio and Board of Alderman President Fiorello LaGuardia interject themselves on cue as Covello’s reflections also serve as narration.
After a reading from the proclamation by Alfonzo Hollis about Marcantonio’s political work for Fiorello LaGuardia and his constituency services for over 300 people per week from different ethnic backgrounds and races, Sarah Marcantonio Coursey continued with a set of whereas clauses about Marcantonio’s advocacy for Italian Americans. Marilyn Ocasio then introduced a dramatization with me as Marcantonio delivering a speech to a radio audience in July 1942 defending Italian Americans against discrimination during World War II when they were under suspicion because the United States was at war with the nation of Italy. Marilyn pointed out the speech was submitted to the Congressional Record and was one of several speeches in the program that are included the book, I Vote My Conscience: The Writings, Speeches, and Debates of Vito Marcantonio.
Author and Historian, Christopher Bell
After VMF member Christopher Bell read several Whereas clauses highlighting Marcantonio’s fight against the poll tax and for anti-lynching laws, his successful defense of W.E.B. Dubois and William Paterson, the appearance of the three together before the United Nations Security Council on behalf of African Americans, and the Congessman’s role in breaking the major league baseball color barrier, an astonished audience resoundingly applauded these accomplishments. Grasping the format of the event, the audience would also warmly acknowledge each reader, especially when a celebrity, such as Frank Sinatra or Jackie Robinson, became part of the drama in the story. After Bell’s reading, I dramatized a splicing of Marcantonio’s speeches from 1949 to the House of Representatives opposing the poll tax.
LaGuardia with FDR
Ocasio then introduced Rita Barakos, whose singular yet comprehensive ‘Whereas’ clause spoke to Marcantonio’s advocacy for Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. I then dramatized a Marcantonio speech from 1947 about Puerto Rico’s plight as a result of US economic policy and the cause of Puerto Rican migration to the mainland, indirectly addressing the misconception that the East Harlem Representative “brought the Puerto Ricans to New York” – propaganda used to mobilize voters against him.
After a set of ‘Whereas’ clauses read by Eduardo Sanchez regarding Marcantonio’s political party designations, his movement into the American Labor Party, and the effort to get rid of him through the Wilson Pakula Act, four members of the Drama Workshop Project performed a scene written by Roberto Ragone combining historical facts and creative license about the circumstances of the time. It was a scene between LaGuardia, played by Art Bernal, and Marcantonio arguing over the prospect of creating a viable third party and weighing the propaganda of criticism against Marcantonio by the press and the political establishment. In that scene, Eduardo Sanchez plays a WCBS radio broadcaster. Marilyn Ocasio served as the narrator.
Roberto Ragone, Marilyn Ocasio, Eduardo Sanchez, and Art Bernal
Following the scene, Art Bernal explained the drama behind the campaign of 1948 (written by me to be non-partisan): “With all of America watching, Marcantonio would win in 1948 despite the Wilson Pakula Act. However, LaGuardia’s death in September 1947 would deprive the Progressive Party of a formidable Vice Presidential candidate in the 1948 election cycle.” As Adam Milat-Meyer placed the famous photo on the screen of President Harry Truman from 1948, Bernal pointed out that “we now see an endearing image of Democrat Harry Truman winning the 1948 presidential race, despite the predictions by the newspapers that night that he would lose to Republican Thomas Dewey,” noting the Chicago Daily Tribune’s premature headline — Dewey Defeats Truman — which “Truman holds, beaming with glee.” Bernal’s presentation underscores the failure of people to know or recognize the Presidential race was close partly due to the Progressive Party’s siphoning of votes from the Democratic Party, and that the Democratic Party adopted portions of the Progressive Party’s agenda, including civil rights, to avoid defeat.
The presentation asked the public to imagine if LaGuardia had lived and campaigned as the Vice Presidential candidate with Vito Marcantonio, Henry Wallace, and actor/activist, Paul Robeson for the Progressive Party: “The Progressive Party could have pulled away enough votes, for Republican Dewey to actually beat Truman, making the Progressive Party a force to be reckoned with as a third party.” Referring back to the dramatization of the anti-poll tax speech, Bernal pointed out that when the Democrats abandoned their civil rights agenda in 1949, Marcantonio took aim at Northern hypocrisy, and criticized a New York City run by Mayor Bill O’Dwyer that was fraught with discrimination, segregation, and police brutality – an admission Marcantonio readily makes to his Southern Congressional colleagues in the dramatized speech before the House of Representatives.
Picking up on the last thread, Marilyn Ocasio refers to a campaign poster from David Giglio’s film along with the photo of Ralph Fasanella’s painting in the written program (displayed on the screen by Adam Milat-Meyer) to help the audience visualize Marcantonio’s 1949 run for Mayor against Bill O’Dwyer. In the painting, entitled Marcantonio for Mayor, Marcantonio gives a speech in 1949 at a distant podium at the Lucky Corner of East 116th Street and Lexington Avenue. Marilyn noted, “Marcantonio would lose the Mayor’s race despite his many votes, and this would set up his last stand in 1950.”
Terry Doyle recited a series of Whereas clauses describing Marcantonio’s opposition to popular legislation, including the anti-labor Taft-Hartly Act, and politically charged foreign policy positions, casting the sole votes against the Marshall Plan and intervention in the Korean conflict. This segued to the final Marcantonio dramatization. My presentation spliced two speeches by Marcantonio from July 1950 in which he opposes the Korean War, and his final speech in 1950 when he warns America against militarism and unjustified foreign intervention.
Henry Wallace, Marc, and Paul Robeson
Alfonzo Hollis’ reading of a series of Whereas clauses pondered the impact of Marcantonio’s death set up the performance of Paul Robeson’s eulogy to Marcantonio. Robeson’s remarks had been published in his newspaper — called Freedom — when Marcantonio died, but were never orated in any gathering. The performance on October 19th was a dramatization of how Paul Robeson would have delivered that speech had he addressed an audience on the day Marcantonio died. The speech so captured Robeson’s deep felt sentiments through a slow, impassioned voice with brief moments of pause for reflection, the presentation received a standing ovation.
Marilyn Ocasio then called Frank Marcantonio back up to the podium to conclude The People’s Proclamation, providing a symmetry for his setting the proclamation in motion at the beginning of the program. He pointed out Cardinal Spellman’s refusal to provide a Catholic burial, Marcantonio’s interment at historic Woodlawn cemetery near his wife and Fiorello LaGuardia, and with emotion building up and contained, Frank shared the words on Marcantonio’s tombstone: “Vito Marcantonio: Defender of Human Rights.” After pointing to the growing interest in Marcantonio’s life since the late 1990’s, he declares the final resolution statements towards which the Whereas clauses had been building:
Therefore, be it known, that The Vito Marcantonio Forum is convinced that the life and work of Vito Marcantonio have been unfairly ignored and present to people today guidelines for a progressive politics that promises significant gains for a more genuinely democratic United
Therefore, be it further known, that the those assembled and future signators of any paper or online petition of “The People’s Proclamation for The People’s Politician,” with pride,
honor the contributions of Representative Vito Marcantonio and their benefit to New York City, the nation, and the world along with the efforts of the Vito Marcantonio Forum to honor the Congressman’s memory on the 60th Anniversary of his death on August 9, 2014, and beyond.
The audience was surprise, pleasantly caught off guard as they realized they were being offered an opportunity to participate in the program – in the theatrical reconstruction of “The Vito Marcantonio Phenomenon” and his “Effective Radical Legacy” — that one can arguably further subtitle “The Passion of Vito Marcantonio.” Carrying out a suggestion to me by Gerald, Frank Marantonio made a motion to approve “ The People’s Proclamation for the People’s Politician.” After Frank said, “All in favor, say, aye,” there was a collectively spontaneous and immediate proclaimed “Aye” from the audience with laughter as Frank asked, “all opposed?”
Attorney Frank Marcantonio
My experiment juxtaposing the proclamation and the performances seemed to succeed. (I never mentioned the fake $10,000 bet again, in case it was a bad joke.)
As mentioned, I had expected the readers to recite their Whereas clauses, contributing to the narrative and back story, and then simply return to their seats with no audience response. This is because other than Frank Marcantonio’s conclusion to the proclamation, the rest of the document left the story of the Marcantonio phenomenon an open-ended cliffhanger. Instead, the audience applauded each reader for providing another revealing and remarkable insight about Marcantonio.
Dr Gerald Meyer
After Gerald Meyer announced that the next event of the VMF would take place during Black History Month to explore VMF member Christopher Bell’s three books about East Harlem (click here to purchase on amazon.com), I thanked everyone for appreciating the presentation and its format along with their participation in mourning the loss of Morgan Powell. I then acknowledged all participants in both the memorial and the performances who shared their time, energy, and emotion so the audience can come away enlightened and inspired about and by both Morgan and Marcantonio, and hopefully motivated to tackle contemporary issues that remain relevant from Marcantonio’s time.
Special thanks for that day go to:
Frank Saponara, the Restaurant Owner, for being so open to the subject matter and for hosting a second VMF event at his restaurant with complimentary appetizers and discounted wine.
Kevin O’Connor,Live Audio Engineer, who made himself available at the last minute to provide the technical support.
Members of the Vito Marcantonio Forum who participated in carrying out the event:
Don’t miss found Vito Marcantonio Forum member appearing live today!
The City College of New York Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education and the Divisional Committee on Inclusive Excellence In recognition of Italian-American Heritage Month
Vito Marcantonio: Beloved Son of Italian Harlem,
Master of the Multiethnic Coalition
Wednesday, October 29, 2014 6-8PM
The City College of New York
Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education
Check out our video promoting the 60th Anniversary commemoration of the death of legendary Congressman Vito Marcantonio (2 min and 42 seconds)
Woodlawn Cemetery’s chief historian, Susan Olsen, will conduct a walking tour after visiting Marcantonio’s gravesite, where there will speeches by the world’s top experts on the late, great congressman. Don’t miss it!!!
Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954): A Synopsis of Large Life
Vito Marcantonio was undeniably America’s most electorally successful radical politician of the last century.
Living his entire life in East Harlem, he built a coalition joining the Italian American, Puerto Rican, and African American communities.
From 1934 to 1950, he won seven electoral terms; initially running as a maverick Republican, in 1938 he declared himself a member of the American Labor Party.
Marc became one of the most active and effective members of the US House of Representatives. He defended Italian Americans against discrimination. He was the floor leader for major civil rights legislation, submitted five bills for Puerto Rico’s independence, led the fight against the Cold War, championed the rights of the foreign-born, and rallied to prevent the passage of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act. During his last term, he cast the sole dissenting votes against both the Korean War and the contempt citations handed down by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
At the age of fifty-one, Marcantonio fell dead of a massive heart attack just steps from New York’s City Hall.
Marc traveled with a crucifix in his pocket, was known among his constituents as “Our Marc” and “The Bread of the Poor,” yet Cardinal Spellman denied him a Catholic burial.
Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and Marcantonio’s mentor, Dr. Leonard Covello, served as honorary pall bearers. Paul Robeson issued a statement eulogizing Marc.
Marcantonio’s wife, Miriam Sanders, and closest associates organized The Vito Marcantonio Memorial, which published I Vote My Conscience, a book of his speeches, writings and debates, created by his close associate, Annette T. Rubinstein.
Following a funeral procession through East Harlem that saw thousands lining the streets to bid him farewell, Marcantonio was laid to rest near the grave of his other mentor, Fiorello LaGuardia, in New York’s non-denominational historical Woodlawn Cemetery in the Northwest Bronx.
Fifty nine years later, members of the Vito Marcantonio Forum paid tribute to this political leader by visiting his grave site to honor his fights for justice.
Dedicated to creating awareness about his life and accomplishments, the Vito Marcantonio Forum is encouraging even more people to visit his resting place this year on Saturday, August 9, 2014, when the group commemorates the 60th Anniversary of his death. Marcantonio is a model for politicians, who face many of the same issues today.
In celebration of diversity, Hostos members of The Italian American Faculty and Staff Council of CUNY Present a Book Party, Dramatic Reading and Discussion:
Leonard Covello’s The Heart is the Teacher
Thursday May 1, 2014
WHAT: Book party, dramatic reading and discussion of Leonard Covello’s The Heart is the Teacher. Recently reprinted and reissued by the John D. Calandra Institute of Italian American Institute’s series dedicated to all aspects of the Italian diaspora. WHO:Professor Gerald J. Meyer, who wrote the Afterword for the reissued book, will contextualize Covello’s work and discuss its pedagogical relevance in today’s multi-cultural society. From the Afterword: “Covello proposed an alternative vision of how Italian-American and other immigrant cultures (and especially their languages) could endure and flourish in their new homeland.” New York based playwright/actor, performance and multidisciplinary artist, LuLu LoLo will dramatize portions of the book while Roberto Ragone, actor/producer, business and cultural consultant, will take on the role of seven-time elected East Harlem Congressman Vito Marcantonio, a former student, and close friend to Covello; reading passages about Marcantonio from Covello’s book and explaining Covello’s importance to education. WHEN: Thursday May 1, 2014 from 12:30-2:30 PM. Refreshments will be served. Free admission.
LOCATION: Hostos Community College. Vito Marcantonio Room, B Building Room 115.